Elijah Meets God at Horeb1 Kings 19:11-14 (NRSVUE)
He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind, and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire, and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
I wonder, have you ever felt like God was far away? Have you prayed and prayed and felt like no one was listening? Do you ever feel empty and alone, like God is no were to be found? Well, folks, the truth is, sometimes when it comes to our faith we try too hard. Sometimes we pray and we read scripture and we question, and we get so caught up in our emotions and in our desire to experience God that we end up missing the holy and sacred moments all around us.
Last week we celebrated Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. What I have found, over the years, is that the Holy Spirit has a strange way of coming to us in the most surprising moments and in the most unexpected ways. It’s usually when I’m longing for the presence of God in my life that the Holy Spirit is nowhere to be found, but as soon I as begin to go about my everyday life, or when I think I’m finally getting things all together, that’s when the wind of the spirit usually appears to point me in a new direction.
Often, people imagine God’s presence in flashy and pronounced ways. Like the parting of the Red Sea or in the Burning Bush that Moses saw in the desert. They imagine the call of God as a loud, deep, resounding voice coming from heaven when many times the call of God is simply a feeling or an urging to do something. Even in our scripture reading today, Elijah expected God to be in the big things: the great wind, the earthquake, and the fire! But God came to him in the stillness, in the silence, in a whisper.
Now we many times experience the presence of God when we gather here in the sanctuary as a faith community, singing, praying, sharing in the sacraments, and praising God. After all, Jesus tells us “When two or three are gathered, I am there among you.” But why is it that sometimes we experience the presence of God, and sometimes we don’t? Sometimes we feel God in simple everyday things–in the beauty of a sunset or a flower, in the kindness of a stranger, or in the love of a friend or family member. And yet other times we feel as though God is somewhere far, far away.
The truth is that God’s presence is often gentle and unexpected, and it is never something that we can control because that is part of the mystery of our faith. Now it is true that we often experience the divine more when we let go of the worries and concerns that we are carrying and allow ourselves to be fully present in the moment. But what if we don’t know what the presence of God feels like? What if we don’t know if the wind we are feeling is just the wind, or if it is the Holy Spirit? Well, I think it’s in times like those that we need to step out of our heads and into our hearts. Folks, remember, there are many things in life that we can feel but can’t fully explain.
I received a call from a woman this past week. Her husband passed away a year and a half ago and I had officiated his service. She called because she was upset. She said that everyone told her that she would feel her husband’s presence, and now it’s been a year and a half and she never has. I asked her what she thought it would feel like to feel his presence. She told me that it would feel like him giving her a big hug, or taking care of her like he used to. Maybe she would even hear his voice.
I explained to her that everyone has different experiences when it comes to grieving a loved one. And just like when people long to experience the presence of God in their lives, sometimes they try too hard. They think too much about it, and they don’t allow themselves to simply feel what is happening in each moment. I went on to explain to the woman that many people make associations. They have something that reminds them of their loved one or of God, and when they see it or experience it, they feel a sense of sacredness from that association.
Many times, cardinals or dragonflies evoke the presence of a loved one or a special song or food that the person enjoyed. It’s just like when we worship together here at church. We hear songs and stories that evoke the presence of God and we carry out rituals that help us to make those connections. But the important part is not worrying about how or why, or if it is real, but simply allowing your heart to make the connection, to feel the comfort, and to experience the joy.
I was talking with Helen Marshall this week at Coffee Connection, and she asked me if we could say a special prayer this Sunday for her son Dave who passed away sixteen months ago. I invited her to bring a picture of him to have on the altar today, and I asked her to tell me a little bit about Dave. Now, first of all, his name was Dave Fontaine, but it is not the same Dave Fontaine as usually joins us here in Oldtown. Helen lit up at the invitation to tell her son’s story.
Of course, losing him so unexpectedly to an overdose was devastating for the entire family, and not a day goes by when Helen does not miss him. But Helen, Bob, and the whole family are using their grief, their loss, and Dave’s story to help others. They have started a non-profit called “Dave’s Journey” and they raise money to educate and fight against addiction and alcoholism and to help people who are in treatment. What an amazing way to celebrate Dave and to keep his memory and his presence alive!
Folks every day, we have a choice. We can walk through life and find all the problems. We can complain and doubt, and concentrate on all that we don’t have. We can cling to our brokenness, our loneliness, our grief, our pain, and our hurt. Or we can choose to look through the eyes of hope. We can imagine the possibilities all around us. And we can experience the mysteries of our faith and the sacred presence of those who have died whether we can explain it or not. Because when we do that, we don’t need to wait for everything to be perfect. We simply need to work for the love of our neighbor and for the welfare of our community, searching for the good that is all around us. Because when we do, many times we find the beauty that is within us, too.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we all go back out into the world this week, let’s not wallow in the wickedness that we see but let us work for the good. Let’s not stress and worry and wait for someday when our struggles are gone, but let’s open our hearts and celebrate the holy moments and sacred signs that are all around us. Let us not complain and judge and point fingers but let us feel and know the presence and the unconditional love of God. And when we do, may with share it with others!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!